Love him hate him, but A. Arul Selvaraj is totally focused on his job as the national men’s hockey team head coach and goes about his job with full confidence and believe in himself and his team.
The 48-years-old father of three daughters who has set up his home in Ireland 15 years ago, who took charge of the national team head coach from Roelant Oltmans, of Holland, in August two years ago, has had his fair share of critics for his way of managing and selecting the players, his choice of friendly matches overseas and basically doubting his capabilities.
But Arul has the full support of the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) and ably supported by the National Sports Council and National Sports Institute, and strongly aided by his former national teammate and now team manager of the national team, Datuk Mirnawan Nawawi.
Arul arrived in Ipoh with the team for the 29th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament on Thursday afternoon and immediately declared that this tournament is a process to get the team ready for the World Cup in January in India and the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2024 OIympics, by winning the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September.
If Malaysia fail to emerge champion at the Asian Games, they have another chance in January in January 2024 in the Olympic qualifier where 16 teams will be involved and the top three in each Group qualify.
Does that mean, Arul is not interested to win the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup?
“No, our team philosophy is to win every match we play. Yes, based on ranking of the teams for this year’s tournament, who are ranked lower than previous years, we should win the title. But that does not mean, that we are going to have an easy path,” said Arul who had his first training session on Friday night and another this morning in Ipoh.
“There is no easy match. We have to work hard, play to our best ability and treat every opponent with respect and caution. Yes we should be in the final, but if that does not happen, I am not going to push the panic button.”
The teams competing in Ipoh are Korea, South Africa, Japan, Pakistan, Egypt and Malaysia.
The team has just returned from an European tour where they played Belgium and France and have come fresh from a 3-day motivation camp in Lenggong in Perak conducted by camp commandmentDatuk Abdul Rashid Harun, the former CPO of Sabah and Ex-ESSCOM Commander and his team of commandos.
“I have had my fair share of critics with my job, but I plod on to do my job the way I believe it should be done. And my work maybe new to some or even alien, but this is modern hockey and we have to prepared for the challenges it offers.”
Arul is known for comparing driving a car at 80 km per hour and driving a fast car around then racing track.
“When we drive slowly, we always have time to react. But when one in is driving around the race track at high speed, decisions have to be made in split second or disaster will occur.
“It is the same with modern day hockey. One has to have speed, power and strength. Right decisions have to be made immediately under pressure and this can only be done when one is fit, fast thinking and understands situations.”
To this, Arul has been educating his players to play as a team, be independent to stand up to challenges, understand the game, make the right decisions at the right time, adapting well to play under high intensity and lasting the tournament to play their best for the whole duration of the tournament, especially the crucial seventh match.
“Normally, we fizzle out in the last match of tournament having problems to give the same performance as earlier matches. But we are working hard to overcome that flaw in the team.”
It may come as a surprise to many, but players in a game make their own substitution!
“Yes I have a squad and not first XI players. Every player is a utility to the team. I name the first XI for a match and have players available for substitution for every slot. I do not interfere in the substitutions and the players make their own, unless there is an injury or suspension because of card, when I may make a tactical change.
“The players also do their own video analysis after matches, get their daily training program before their training and need to go through it so that they know exactly what to do in each training.”
Arul said it is not about talented or skilful players but it about players current performance, they willingness to train the ‘new way’ and above all being independent and understand their role but at the same time play as a team.
“I speak and engage with the players’ parents and wives, as they are part of making the team tick, as they have to know what their sons or husbands are doing to achieve their ultimate goal and they have to play a key supporting role.
“It is family I am working with and not just individuals,” emphasised Arul.
Arul also said that other vital aspects included is the incorporation of sports science as he has specialists handling each area.
Besides his assistants coaches, Amin Rahim, Brendon Carolan, S. Kumar, Azrul Effendy, and team doctor, Devan Raguraja, there is physiotherapist, Mohd Fauzan, physical trainer from England, Thomas Drowley and psychologist Aruna Santhappan.
“All of them do a great deal of work to get the team in shape in every related aspect, that makes the team tick.”
After the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the Malaysian team will head for the men’s Nations Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa, from Nov 28-Dec 4 before the World Cup in January.